by Shelley Koon
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a tough critic. I’ve been known to make grown men cry. Not one of my proudest moments, but one I refuse to apologize for. Why? Because I was delivering open and honest feedback in the most constructive way I possibly could in an attempt to help a writer improve their craft.
Getting feedback on your work can be tough. Your manuscript is your baby: you’ve cared for, nurtured, and loved it even at its ugliest stages, but most writers go into a critique expecting to do a bit of flinching from the feedback we receive. What I don’t think many writers expect is how intimidating giving feedback can be, and as a result, many struggle far more with doling out bad news than they do when receiving it. There’s fear of hurting the feelings of those you’ve built friendships with, and yes, to a certain extent, a fear of retaliation. So how do you get over that fear and learn to give the open and honest feedback a writer needs to improve their writing and craft an manuscript worthy of a nod from an agent? This blogger has some suggestions:
- Read the submission through once as a reader. This gives you the opportunity to love the writer with all their faults. We do love our critique partners and all their words!
- Read the submission the second time through as a critiquer. Remove your personal connections from the writer and read the submission as if you’re reading the work of an unknown author. This gets easier over time, but you can do it!
- Praise the good parts. Mark the stuff that makes you swoon with delight, note passages that resonate with you, and find what’s good and needs to stay.
- Mention the bad and the ugly. Mark the stuff the makes you stop reading. This can be anything: poor grammar/misspelled words, POV, too much telling, plot holes, and so on. Anything that makes you stop reading to question the story or forces you to reread for clarification is an issue. Mark it even if you can’t quite pinpoint the issue. Chances are another critiquer will have noticed it to, and it may be an issue that needs to be addressed.
- Write a summary and tell the writer what works for you and what doesn’t. Your comments are not arguing points. They’re your opinions. If you always keep this in mind, giving feedback becomes much easier because you aren’t telling the writer they’re wrong. You’re just offering feedback that they can use as they wish.
- Bring a sandwich. Because those critique sessions can run long sometimes! Just joking . . . “Sandwiching” in a critique group is the process of giving feedback in a good news/bad news/good news format. Start off with what you loved about the submission, then move into what didn’t work for you, and finish with the writer’s strengths. That said, be honest! Let’s face it, there are some submissions that are just a hot mess (yeah, I have some of those . . .), and I never advocate blowing sunshine up someone’s bum. During tough critiques, I remind the writer that the fact that they wrote and came to a critique group puts them leaps and bounds above the rest of the pack. I also let them know that if they give up on their writing because of a tough critique session, I promise to send Guido out to kneecap them. Just kidding! His name’s not Guido, it’s Ralph . . .
- Come with a warning label. This last bit of advice is for people like me who have no qualms about giving and receiving some tough love. I make it a habit to tell my critique partners that I’m under the assumption they’ve joined the critique group to improve their writing with the intent of seeking publication. Because of this assumption, I don’t hold back because I want them to be successful. I want them to know everything that tripped me up when reading because it will probably get caught by an agent or editor as well. I find when I share this information up front, writers understand the angle I’m coming from, and it’s easier for them to take our friendship out of the equation during their critique.
Lastly, realize your feedback truly is important to the writers in your writers group, and never be afraid to help them improve.
This article was originally published August 28, 2013 here.
Shelley Koon is a YA author, internationally published artist of creepy and dark art, designer, and photographer. A recent transplant from the northern beaches of California to the eastern beaches of Delaware, she’s currently trying to adjust to the ocean being on the wrong side of the state.
An advocate for critique groups, Shelley explores the ins and outs of said groups on her blog WriteScared.com and is currently serving as the critique group coordinator for SCBWI’s MD/DE/WV region.